The Government has included a Draft Rail Reform Bill in the King’s Speech, which was delivered yesterday.
The draft bill includes legislation on the creation of Great British Railways (GBR) which has long been promised and was initially included in the Williams Shapps Plan for Rail, in 2021.
The bill also has planned changes to national passenger operating contracts and ticketing systems, which would ultimately be overseen by GBR.
The inclusion of the Draft Rail Reform bill in the King’s Speech will now mean a Parliamentary committee will oversee pre-legislative scrutiny of the provisions of the bill during this session of parliament, however, there is no guarantee that parliament will have time to debate the bill and consequently pass the legislation before the next general election, which must take place before the end of January, 2025.
Since the announcement of the proposed establishment of GBR in 2021, work to prepare the bill for parliament has been carried out by the GBR Transition Team (GBRTT) which has been overseen by Andrew Haines, chief executive of Network Rail.
Response throughout the industry to the draft bill has been mixed. Chief executive of The Railway Industry Association, Darren Caplan was pleased with the inclusion of the bill, commenting:
“We welcome the news that this Draft Bill has been included in the King’s Speech. The Railway Industry Association and 70 of our members campaigned on this earlier this year, writing to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, about the need to take the establishment of Great British Railways forward, to provide some certainty about rail restructure and avoid hiatus in decision-making.
“And so whilst we would have wanted a full Transport Bill providing for GBR, today’s inclusion of a Draft Bill does seem to be progress and a statement of Government intent to reform rail, ultimately bringing track and train closer together, and developing a “guiding mind” and a long-term plan for the railways. We urge the Government to begin the pre-legislative scrutiny process without delay.
“At a time when passenger numbers and revenues are encouragingly growing back to pre-Covid levels, the Government now needs to push on with any and all measures which help build a vibrant, world-class railway for the future, and avoids any hint of so-called managed decline when it comes to the future of UK rail.”
However, others have been more critical, including Norman Baker director of external affairs at Campaign for Better Transport who said; “We welcome the renewed commitment to Great British Railways as a guiding mind and arms-length body but it is not clear why this is a draft Rail Reform Bill rather than a commitment to legislate given this has already been subject to extensive discussion and is largely non-controversial across all the political parties.”
In some quarters there is concern that time will run out on any possible legislation before the next election.
“The rail industry has been awaiting progress on reform since the Williams Review started over five years ago, culminating in the Plan for Rail being published in 2021.
“Delivering that plan remains the best foundation to build a better railway for Britain, and not seizing the moment now means continuing uncertainty until after the next General Election”, commented Andy Bagnall, chief executive of Rail Partners.
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